I’m not going to recap the last months for you: my column at The Pool does it in real-time, with occasional in-depth pieces at The Toast, if you’re interested. Because this isn’t about that. This isn’t about the Cancer Thing, not really. This is about something rich and lovely and celebratory, this is about the windows of the Tiny Flat fogging up with steam, and two enormous knitted blankets in deep midnight blue, and two, because there’s two of us: the Tall Man is home. The Tall Man is home, and home is home again, and because he’s home I’m cooking again, and because he’s home I’m cooking with prosecco. I cannot imagine an evening more worthy of using up the little bottle given to us by a friend, and in any case, we ran out of white wine. Imagine that! So gloriously decadent a sentence: we ran out of white wine for the tagliatelle so I had to use up the last of the prosecco. At least it’s not champagne, I suppose.
So the Tall Man is home. And so am I. The Tiny Flat is a home again, rather than just a sort of waystation between hospital visits. I’m stringing fairy lights from windows and lighting candles, and there’s music and kissing and lounging about in old pyjamas. We’re making Christmas lists, and mince pies. I think I might try my hand at rough pough pastry tomorrow. But not tonight. I think the adrenaline that’s driven me through the last months has started to dissipate, like steam into the night air, and so I am floundering a little. Tonight I have wanted to lie under one of those big blankets, and watch Home Alones 1 and 2, and not think. The kind of films that don’t really require thought.
But some impulse drove me to cook. Something was missing, without it: the Tall Man was home, and yet it did not feel- we did not feel?- bedded in, as if a strong wind might send him sailing back to Barts.
So I cooked. I set him to chopping, as in the old days: garlic, chilli. I put a pot of water on to boil, and found the tagliatelle, and looked in vain for the white wine. And then I found the little bottle of prosecco.
I wasn’t going to write this recipe up. That’s why there aren’t any pictures. Because tonight wasn’t about blogging, or writing, or cooking for anyone’s sake but ours, mine and his. It was about getting back to normal. It was about getting our life back, for a little while. But he asked me to write it, and so I am. I’ve never been able to resist the Tall Man.
Serves two hungry people, one of whom has had a month of hospital food
Takes 20 minutes
Four cloves of garlic
Two red chillies
Pancetta, diced (just the kind you get in the chiller section of the supermarket)
A half-glass of prosecco (you could replace this with white wine, if you aren’t celebrating)
About 75g Parmesan
A very little bit of lemon zest- so an old half from the fridge would be fine.
Salt, pepper, olive oil
So, here is what you do. You take a frying pan, and a saucepan.
You set both on the heat: saucepan on high, frying pan on the lowest possible.
You fill the saucepan with water, a big pinch of salt, and a tiny splash of olive oil. Use your first two fingers and your thumb for the salt. I keep a cheaper big bag of salt in the kitchen for this kind of generous cooking. Please don’t ignore this bit. I never used to salt my pasta water, and it is honestly the single greatest change I’ve ever made to my cooking. So salt generously, like the ocean. The oil, too, helps the tagliatelle keep each strand separate and glossy. But you need only a very little bit.
Then empty a packet of pancetta into the frying pan- you don’t need fat here, if it’s non-stick or seasoned-and you cook it incredibly slowly. The lowest, lowest heat.
While it’s cooking, take and chop the two red chillies, and four fat cloves of garlic as finely as you can bothered. It’s better, I think, when it’s pretty fine, but don’t get too het up about it. When the pancetta is edible-but-still-floppy- you know what I mean?-you add the chilli and garlic. You stir it, two, three minutes, in the pancetta fat.
And then you throw half a glass of prosecco into the frying pan and let it reduce slowly, slowly, to a syrup. This will take quite a little time, ten or fifteen minutes, but it’s okay. This gives you time to grate a fair quantity of Parmesan, and a tiny, tiny bit of lemon zest.
Taste the pasta: you want it firm, with a bite to it. Al dente. When it’s there, if you’ve timed it right, the prosecco will have reduced nicely. (If not, it’s not too late! Just turn the heat up a little, and stir stir stir. Then go on.)
Take a slotted spoon, and lift the tagliatelle still-dripping out of the pot and drop it straight into the syrupy frying pan. Toss. Toss. You want the prosecco syrup to kind of coat the pasta, before you add anything else: once it’s properly mixed through, add the Parmesan and lemon zest. Toss again. Stir. The cheese will melt into the pasta-water-prosecco, and it will make a smooth, silky sauce that never pools, but clings to each pasta strand. Grind over more black pepper than you ever thought possible.
Two bowls, each with a celebratory glass of Prosecco. Bingo.